51 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 22 October 1974


Portuguese Timor

Thank you for your reports on Santos's visit.

It is to be expected that like the Indonesians the Portuguese will describe their attitude towards Timor with emphases that differ according to their audience. There is, however, a difference going beyond a simple variation of emphasis between the account in your O.JA54451 and our own impression of Portuguese thinking following on Santos's visit. We gained the clear impression from Santos and his party that, while they regarded the association of Portuguese Timor in some way with Indonesia as the natural long-term outcome, there would be a substantial intervening period of some years even after the constituent assembly was elected when the territory would remain associated with Portugal, although the association need not necessarily be in its present form. During this intervening period there would be a program of political and economic development in the territory and together with Indonesia Australia would be welcome to help in economic development. (Nothing was said that excluded Indonesian co-operation in political development.) These impressions of Portuguese thinking contrast with the remarks reported in para 2 and elsewhere in your JA5445, particularly because they imply a more deliberate progress towards a solution of Timor's future than do the Portuguese remarks to the Indonesians. (We note, however, the last sentence of your O.JA5427.2 )

  1. Once before, at the time of Tjan's visit here, the Indonesians understood that the Portuguese were moving more quickly on Timor than we thought they would move.lt seems to us important that misunderstandings about the timing of Portuguese plans should be removed if they exist among the Indonesians, because they risk encouraging the Indonesians themselves towards the sort of precipitate action which we wish to avoid.
    [matter omitted]
  2. More generally we see advantages in the Department in the Indonesians going along with Portuguese planning as we understand it. The risk is that the longer the delay in deciding on the long-term political status of Portuguese Timor the stronger the political forces favouring independence within the territory may become. But the public commitment which Indonesia, as well as Portugal and Australia, has given to self-determination in Portuguese Timor always carried the risk that independence might be the outcome for the territory, conscious though they and we are of the dangers of independence[.] On the other hand, delays give the Indonesians time to influence opinion within Timor in their own favour and the Portuguese seem ready to help them. A related point is that we think it in everyone's interest if the Indonesians do not feel that they are committed to the goal of early association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia willy nilly and that delay would involve some loss of self-respect. On this score, it is important to know whether some of the Indonesians really believe that opinion in Portuguese Timor now favours them and whether the opposite Portuguese assessment (which we are inclined to share) has made any dent in their thinking.
  3. In your conversations with the Indonesians we should be glad if you would go over some of these points.We should especially like to know whether the Indonesians would be happy with the sort of gradual program for Portuguese Timor which we think the Portuguese have in mind.

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, iii]